Architect of ‘M*A*S*H’ dies
Gene Reynolds, an Emmy-winning producer and director who was a force behind two of the most acclaimed television series of the 1970s and early ’80s, “M*A*S*H” and “Lou Grant,” died Monday in Burbank. He was 96.
His wife, Ann Sweeny Reynolds, said the cause was heart failure.
Gene Reynolds started his prolific career on the performing side of the camera, appearing in some 80 films and television shows, beginning when he was a child. He developed an unusual sort of specialty: playing the younger versions of characters played by top film stars of the 1930s.
He was the adolescent version of Don Ameche’s character in “Sins of Man” (1936), and of Ricardo Cortez’s character in “The Californian” (1937), and of Tyrone Powers’ character in “In Old Chicago” (1938), among others. A breakthrough was when he played the young version of James Stewart’s character in “Of Human Hearts” (1938), an MGM movie that earned him a contract with that studio.
Reynolds racked up dozens more TV and film acting credits, including more than 40 in the 1950s, but by the end of that decade he had shifted his focus to directing and, soon after that, to producing.
In the 1960s, he directed numerous episodes of television comedies, including “Hogan’s Heroes” and “F Troop,” both of which found humor and absurdity in military settings. That experience served him well in 1972, when, at the instigation of the producer William Self, he helped Larry Gelbart develop “M*A*S*H,” the sitcom about an Army hospital during the Korean War. (Robert Altman’s film, based on Richard Hooker’s novel, had come out two years earlier.)
The series, addressing serious themes with a mix of slapstick and dark humor, is still considered one of the finest in television history. Its final episode, in 1983, set a ratings record. By then, though, Reynolds had moved on and already had another acclaimed series to his credit: “Lou Grant,” which he helped create in 1977, the year he left “M*A*S*H.”
The show, about a fictional newspaper, with Ed Asner as the title character, twice won the Emmy Award for outstanding drama series.
Reynolds directed episodes of each of those series (including the first episodes of both), winning two Emmys himself for outstanding direction of a comedy for “M*A*S*H.” He won six Emmys in all, including one for “M*A*S*H” for best comedy series and one for an earlier show he developed, “Room 222,” which was named outstanding new series of 1969-70.
One of the most memorable moments of “M*A*S*H” that he directed was not a specific episode, but the opening sequence, which shows two helicopters landing at the medical unit, presumably with casualties aboard.